Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Don't knock the Olympics

My favorite sports commentator Frank Deford gave an anti-Olympic diatribe this morning on his weekly NPR sports commentary. (He also writes for Sports Illustrated).

I have to concede he made some good points: NBC’s coverage is often mediocre to dreadful. Who’s the woman figure skating commentator who always has some negative, nit-picky thing to say? Deford made a point of discussing how the Olympics have just become a brand, like Nike. The Olympic flame is like the Nike swoosh, he said.

Hold on. That is being way too cynical. My favorite sports commentator has succumbed to the disease of our times: skeptical cynicism.

After working on an Olympics I am well aware of the corporate and commercial side of the games. There is no denying that aspect of our world has crept in. But I am enough of an idealist and I am still wide eyed and na├»ve enough to believe in the Olympic spirit. What you don’t see on TV is the vast majority of the Olympic athletes whose stories are just as compelling as the stories of the few stars that get profiled and who get all of the sponsors. I don’t begrudge these stars for either of those things. It’s just that there are so many stories that are just as compelling. The guy who comes in two or three seconds behind the leader in skeleton, luge, or bobsled, and is in anywhere from fourth to tenth place or worse--we rarely hear about him. Yet he is just seconds away from the top man in his sport.

Celebrate the gold medalists, definitely, but also celebrate those who strive for excellence and get so close. In many cases getting tenth place is after rounds of qualifying and then beating dozens of other competitors once you finally make it to the games. That’s not so bad. I’ve know a few Olympians personally (I met dozens but can’t say I know them). Those I know truly are some of the most focused and dedicated people I’ve come across.

The huge to-do that was made when the American woman did her little stunt and gave up the gold in snowboarding was just too much. She didn’t dishonor the country, she just fell and got silver. Is that so bad? Gold would have been better, but her mistake is her problem, not a sports catastrophe. NBC ran a commentary about this the night it happened saying how it was unprecedented in sports history. With that kind of hyperbole it is no wonder people like Deford get a little disgusted. Focus on the coverage, not the Olympics themselves. The Olympics are so much more than the media window we get to watch them through.

The Olympic spirit is real. When the Olympics come to town a whole city and region is transformed for a few magical weeks. Athletes put themselves in the arena and give it their best shot. Tens of thousands of volunteers help make it all happen. It is an event like no other.

Yes it has weaknesses, but the strength of the Olympics and the Olympic spirit is strong and alive.

Assistant Venue Transportation Manager
Athlete Transportation System
Salt Lake Olympic Village

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Is this offensive?

Do we believe in anything anymore?

To view more of the cartoons click here.

Last week I was talking to my aunt about the Dick Cheney shooting incident. We were in agreement that the story had moved beyond the absurd. Then to make a point about things that really matter, and that were getting far less coverage last week, I mentioned the cartoon controversy that has enraged Islamic fundamentalists.

“The what?”

She had no idea what I was talking about.

As of today at least 40 people have been killed in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Nigeria, Turkey, and Somalia—including the assassination of a Catholic priest. In addition, the property damage to embassies, consulates, and other buildings is now into the millions of dollars.

All of this over some cartoons. The thing is, if you actually look at the cartoons (see above), it’s hard to imagine what is so offensive. Much has been said about the need for cultural sensitivity. Others have mentioned what I believe is a more cherished value: freedom of speech.

The Wall Street Journal published an article by Amir Taheri titled “Bonfire of the Pieties.” Taheri is an Islamic scholar. He explains that the Qran has no injunction against drawing Muhammad, and the claim that this is the case is purely political. (Follow the link to Taheri’s article for more).

Clearly I am looking at these cartoons from a different perspective than a Muslim extremist. But look at them yourself. What do you think? Are they overly offensive? Are they even remotely offensive? Is the West going to be cowed by these extremists and give up not just one of our most cherished rights, but a right that is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration that every member nation of the UN has approved? If the UN or the aforementioned declaration mean anything--and they must if we ever want peace and justice--they mean that freedom of speech is now not just a Western value or right, but a global one. What is wrong with western values anyway? Why have we lost so much belief in ourselves? (If you follow the link to the declaration, see article 19).

There has been much made of Bush’s surveillance program where his administration is listening to calls from the U.S. to suspected Al Quaeda operatives. Aren't these the people who took four planes a little off course in 2001?

Where are the civil libertarians regarding this assault on a more fundamental issue: freedom of speech? The Bush surveillance program of declared enemies of all that we stand for, versus a massive assault on the natural rights of men and women--which issue deserves our attention the most?

Over the past eighteen months I’ve met and taught at least a dozen veterans of American led military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has been a privilege to get to know these fine young men who are far less political than me, but who have given more than I will ever give in the fight for freedom and justice in the world.

We owe it to these young men, to the oppressed people of the world, and to our most cherished values, to pay attention to what is going on in the world around us. Please look at these cartoons. Read Taheri’s article. Read other things on the topic and think about this issue yourself.

What do you believe?


Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe concluded a piece he wrote called "When fear cows the media" with the following two paragraphs (emphasis added):

Like the Nazis in the 1930s and the Soviet communists in the Cold War, the Islamofascists are emboldened by appeasement and submissiveness. Give the rampagers and book-burners a veto over artistic and editorial decisions, and you end up not with heightened sensitivity and cultural respect, but with more rampages and more books burned. You betray ideals that generations of Americans have died to defend.

And worse than that: You betray as well the dissidents and reformers within the Islamic world, the Muslim Sakharovs and Sharanskys and Havels who yearn for the free, tolerant, and democratic culture that we in the West take for granted. What they want to see from America is not appeasement and apologies and a dread of giving offense. They want to see us face down the fanatics, be unintimidated by bullies. They want to know that in the global struggle against Islamist extremism, we won't let them down.